Speak with a Compassionate Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyer

Candles burning in a church background

The sexual abuse of children by members of the church, including priests, has been a national issue for several decades. If a trusted member of the church has victimized you or your child, there are multiple legal angles you may pursue in seeking the restitution you deserve– while ensuring that the same fate does not happen to another child. Even if the abuse occurred years ago, it is never too late to report it and seek healing.  

It doesn’t cost anything to speak to a Dallas sexual abuse victim lawyer at Crowe, Arnold & Majors. Our resourceful, hardworking attorneys have great compassion for survivors. We work on a contingency basis, meaning you pay nothing upfront to pursue litigation. Our legal fee derives from a percentage of the winning settlement and jury award. If you have been abused and feel ready to talk to someone, contact us for a free consultation to explore your legal options.

Statistics on Church Sexual Abuse in Dallas

Church sexual abusehas been a problem across the country, including Texas.

  • Records released by 15 Texas dioceses in February 2019 revealed at least 298 clergy members across the state have faced “credible abuse” allegations dating back to 1941.
  • The Dallas Diocese released 31 names. Five of the priests had been laicized and demoted from their religious duties, while 17 have died.
  • Despite the “cooperation,” police raided the Dallas Diocese due to missing and incomplete files.    

According to a nonprofit that tracks clergy sexual abuse settlements, some of the Dallas victims have already received monetary compensation for their suffering. Three victims of a Dallas priest received a total of $7.5 million in March 1998. Eight more victims of another Dallas priest were awarded a settlement of $23.4 million in July 1998. There is still a long way to go in breaking down the barriers to full transparency and accountability.

Texas Laws Pertaining to Sex Abuse in Church

Sexual assault falls under “offenses against the person” in theTexas penal code. Sec 22.011, which defines it as coerced sexual activity– meaning without the other person’s consent. It is without consent if the actor uses physical force, threats, coercion, or physical violence. It is without consent when the victim is under 17 years old, unconscious, disabled, or otherwise mentally incapacitated. It is without consent when there is an emotional vulnerability or power differential by profession– specifically when the actor is a public servant, health care services provider, or clergyman. In other words, under Texas law, the relationship is not consensual if a member of the clergy exploits the victim’s emotional dependency as a spiritual adviser.

Also worth noting– Texas has a mandatory reporter law for “any person” who works directly with children. Mandatory reporters, including the clergy, must report known or suspected child abuse to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) or a local law enforcement agency– within 48 hours. The state does not recognize “clergy-penitent privilege” when it comes to child sex abuse in church. Failure to report suspected child abuse is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and imprisonment for up to one year. The report must be made to the proper channel outside the church. Simply reporting the incident to a superior within the religious hierarchy– is not sufficient in fulfilling mandatory reporter duties.  

Damages in Cases of Sexual Abuse by Clergy

Damages in personal injury cases are straightforward for something like a car accident, where there are tangible medical bills and time taken off work. Child sexual abuse cases can be more complicated but certainly no less serious. Though few victims have physical scars from their abuse, one can sue for long-term effects such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Emotional Distress
  • Flashbacks
  • PTSD
  • Self-Harm and Attempted Suicide
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Substance Abuse

Priest sexual abuse is not merely a matter of holding the individual perpetrator responsible, but for going after the diocese who enabled it. Anyone who knew– or should have known— about the abuse, but failed to file a report, can be held liable. A shrewd lawyer can subpoena internal records proving that church leaders knew individual members of their congregation were a problem, and knowingly passed molesters between parishes. 

Statute of Limitations for Religious Abuse

There is no time limit on the suffering caused by religious abuse. However,it may surprise you to learn that there may be a deadline on your ability to file a civil lawsuit for suffering child sexual abuse.

  • Age 33 (for abuse before 9/1/19): Before September 1, 2019, survivors had 15 years from reaching the age of majority (age 33) to report their victimization.
  • Age 40 (for abuse after 9/1/19): A new law extended the amount of time to 30 years (age 48), but it does not retroactively apply to incidents occurring before September 1, 2019.
  • Any age: There is no deadline for filing a criminal lawsuit for sexual assault of a child under 17, continuous sexual abuse of a child, and public indecency with a child. However, older cases can be more challenging to prove and, therefore, may not be accepted by the District Attorney’s office.

Statistics show the average age for adults to report abuse is 52, which poses a problem, given current Texas law. On a positive note, the laws can always change with enough momentum. Unprecedented look-back windows have already been passed in eight states, allowing clergy sexual abuse victims to file previously time-barred claims, no matter when it took place. Therefore, it is always best to discuss your case with an experienced attorney before counting yourself out. 

 Sexual Abuse Lawsuits can be complex

It can be challenging to find a Dallas personal injury lawyer who is willing to take your case. Personal injury lawyers customarily work on a contingency basis, meaning they don’t get paid unless they win. If they’re not confident they can win, they won’t agree to represent you.

Sexual abuse lawsuits can be complicated due to the statutes of limitations, lack of physical evidence in most cases, the need to prove less tangible damages, and the deep-pocketed defendants. Some cases have even been summarily dismissed by judges who believe diocesan policies for handling sexual abuse of minors qualified as “religious doctrine or beliefs.”

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation

Therefore, you’ll need to find a personal injury attorney who is not only passionate about helping survivors but who knows the local courts and who has expert proficiency in the law. You need a team endowed with the resources necessary to win– like a network of intelligent investigators and experts willing to testify on your behalf. You need someone unafraid to go up against the institutions who knowingly move child predators from parish to another.  

You need a lawyer from Crowe Arnold & Majors. Call to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation and learn more about your legal rights.